The Digital Pandemic research project seeks to document and analyze how digital media shapes our experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is the first such global crisis of the digital era, in the sense that digital media platforms and technologies have allowed us to track, connect, organize, and survive the pandemic. The fact that the virus remains “invisible” without the intervention of scientific media instruments (literally, the numeric results of one’s test) puts media at the center stage of the pandemic. Beyond the individual experience of the disease, the collective experience of global lockdowns has been remarkably different from preceding pandemics because of our digital infrastructure. The social and professional life of assemblies have been able to adapt and continue online. Social media has emerged as a sort of replacement for pandemic journals or diary entries for recording individual experience. The pandemic has created the conditions for both the intensification of existing media platforms and the emergence of new digital initiatives in response to current conditions. We now, approaching a year living with COVID-19, have been learning to live with new mediascapes of contact tracing and other epidemiological technologies in addition to the integration of familiar platforms such as Zoom into our daily routines. While digital media has provided the much needed connectivity during isolation, it has also brought about unintended consequences such as anxiety over security and surveillance, digital fatigue, and future uncertainty. Digital adaptation has raised questions over the future of education, economy, environment, and other such issues beyond the period of the pandemic. Our locus of study in this project is this landscape of digital media – the old and new platforms, their innovations, adaptations, and future implications – during the COVID-19 pandemic. As literary and media scholars, we seek to draw attention to the COVID-19 crisis as not merely a medical condition; rather, how the pandemic is a lived personal and social experience, largely facilitated by an ubiquitous digital infrastructure.
The Digital Pandemic website hosts the multifaceted analysis we have attempted over these pandemic months. The media gallery simulates the manifesting media landscape of the COVID-19 digital world with brief annotations to describe their significance. The blog presents longer form analyses on specific pandemic and media phenomena. Finally, the interview series tracks conversations with professionals and scholars to contextualize the complex interrelation of pandemics and media as well as to envision the changes which will inevitably follow in the wake of COVID-19.
The project started in summer 2020 with a grant from the University of California, Santa Barbara. We launched the website at the end of the grant period. However, we plan to keep adding content to the website as the pandemic keeps unfolding and resonating into the future.